A {realistic} zero waste bathroom

Reducing your waste is hardly a compartmentalized, step-by-step process. In fact, tackling small facets of different parts of your life is probably the easiest way to go, since to avoid wasting products you have, you must use them up before switching to reusables. Today we’re looking at the bathroom, which probably produces the most waste after the kitchen. Is there a pun somewhere in there? I think there might be.

These essentials and recommendations reflect a more minimal bathroom, but they apply to most bathrooms even if they don’t cover everything in your bathroom. I’ve divided this into three sections--essentials, optional, and not needed.

I’ll take a quick moment here to address the burning question in your mind—yes, you can use toilet paper. While some opt for family cloth (reusable toilet paper), I would say that’s a minority in the zero waste community. Choose toilet paper made of recycled paper and wrapped in paper instead of plastic.


Essentials


Bamboo toothbrush

Did you know that the American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush every 3 months? That’s four solid plastic sticks and bristles every year, for everyone following the recommendation. Bamboo toothbrushes are trendy at the moment, and a preferable alternative to plastic laden traditional toothbrushes. They also have soft bristles, which are recommended by mouthhealthy.org.

It’s worth noting that bamboo toothbrushes are an imperfect solution. While the handle is compostable bamboo, the bristles are nylon and must be removed before compost. It’s still a big step up from totally plastic toothbrushes, and nobody is suggesting you stop brushing your teeth to reduce your waste.

Bar soap for hand washing

I love, love, love bar soap, and so should you. Bar soaps are easy to find locally made from people within your community, and come in awesome scents. They also (infamously) last longer than liquid hand soap.

Younger generations raised with liquid soap seem to feel it’s dirty, but there’s a body of evidence to the contrary. A 1988 study contaminated a bar of soap with sky high levels of E. Coli and other bacteria, and tested people’s hands after washing. The results: no detectable levels of the bacteria on participants hands. In other words, there no reason to think that bar soap is covered with germs that will make you sick. The old addage that soap is self cleaning seems to hold up. Do you really think that your pump of liquid hand soap is pristine, anyway?

Over a year using bar soap, you could save over $40 dollars. If you need more reasons to love bar soap, check this out. 

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Shampoo bar

Zero waste hair washing is not my favorite thing to talk about. To hear more about why that is, check this out. Long story short, it took me a long time (and lots of greasy hair) to find a zero waste way to wash my hair that worked. That being said, shampoo bars are your best friend. They clean just as well as liquid shampoo, and you’ll never need to buy travel size shampoo again because bars of soap don’t have size limits for air travel. I like this one, which is also much more affordable than Lush shampoo bar alternatives.

Body soap

Another bar of soap-I bet you’re thrilled. I choose to use my shampoo bar as body soap as well. Just check to make sure that your shampoo bar has saponified oils, which means that the oils in the soap have been turned into soap and aren’t still just oils. Other than that, it’s pretty simple. You can rub the bar of soap on a washcloth or loofah (hopefully not plastic) and wash your body. Be careful with body bars-while they seem like soap, they’re not real soap. They have nice qualities like being moisturizing and smelling nice, but a body bar is not actual soap.

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Safety razor

Another zero waste switch I love. I’ve estimated that this can save you almost $16 a year, not to mention it’s way better for the environment. A safety razor is a sharp, single blade razor you can use to shave from head to toe. The blades are inexpensive and widely available, and the razor itself is not costly. Still, look at it as an investment because these razors can last a long time if taken care of (mine is a 1979 Gillette).

People are going to tell you these are harder to use or require a learning curve, but take it from someone with unusually poor hand-eye coordination: it’s easy and you’ll get it right the first time. It’s like shaving with a disposable razor, only you have to pay a bit more attention, which is fair since, you know, there are razor blades.

RUMPs (reusable menstrual products)

I’ll stop raving about menstrual cups and reusable cloth pads when they’re more widely used than disposables (or when I hit menopause). Seriously, another way to save you money and clean up your bathroom. There are so many excellent resources about these products, so I’ll keep it brief. Check here to see how quickly they’ll save you money.

Cleaning products

Have you read the Feminine Mystique? Call me cynical, but they want your money. Women in particular are targeted by advertisements for cleaning products. Did your mothers or grandmothers have a different cleaner for the toilet, sink, floor, tub, hardware, etc.? Vinegar, soap, and baking soda are all you need to clean your bathroom. Boiling water is a nice way to sterilize, too, if that makes you more comfortable. Use the sponges you have now until they’re falling apart, and then try to find sponges that are compostable and made of natural fibers.

A nice bonus here is that if children or pets get into cleaning products, they won’t die. Not a bad deal—trading expensive bottles of cleaners for peace of mind.

 

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deodorant

Much like hair care, I took the long road to finding a zero waste deodorant that worked for me. I’ll recommend first that you don’t put coconut oil on your underarms. I have found baking soda works perfectly. Skeptical? I was, too. It works through two main processes: There are bacteria on your skin interact with the fats, acids and proteins secreted by your skin when you sweat, causing body odor. The way that baking soda neutralizes odors is by neutralizing acids. We can conclude that the acids produced when we sweat are neutralized by the baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and the biproduct of this (salt) acts to inhibit bacterial growth, so baking soda works two-fold to combat sweat. I’ve used this on 5 miles hikes, so I am confident it will hold up to whatever you’re doing.

Medicine

Where is the medicine cabinet located, you may ask? Well, the bathroom of course. I’ve had this question before: what do zero wasters do about medicine? Well…we take medicine if we need it. For better or for worse, zero waste and natural remedies seem to be intertwined, so some people may not even use actual medicine, but I advise against this. There are people more educated and smarter than us (=people with medical licenses) who recommend actual medicine for a reason: it works. I digress.

Like with anything, try for the biggest bottle you can. If you can find something you need in glass over plastic, go for glass. Avoid blister packs if possible, but try to recycle them if it’s available where you live. Hopefully, by taking care of yourself you can avoid needing medicine in wasteful packaging, however, illness can be unavoidable. People with chronic illness or other reasons for long term medicine use should (obviously) prioritize this over reducing their waste.

Our local pharmacy is willing to take back Styrofoam coolers from temperature sensitive medicine and many others will take back pill bottles, so don’t be afraid to ask. I even recommend reaching out to the drug companies about their packaging.

Band-aids

As adult people, our band-aid need is pretty limited to accidently chopping our fingers preparing food or doing manual labor. Children, however, need them more frequently. Cotton gauze, which could be composted, and tape are a good replacement that will also solve the problem of band-aids rarely being the proper size. If you are out and about with kiddos, however, and want to have something with you this might not be a great option. You can always reduce your waste as much as possible by using gauze and tape whenever you can, and keeping a few band-aids on hand for when it’s necessary.

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Toothpaste

You can make your own toothpaste or buy tooth powder. I won’t go into that here because it’s not something I can really recommend. I use Colgate toothpaste because they are partnered with Terracylce to recycle their products, even toothpaste tubes. I want to emphasize that you don’t need to sacrifice things like toothpaste or medicine which can be beneficial in the long term just to reduce your waste.


OPTIONAL


Makeup

I’ll be honest with you—zero waste make up, with the exception of a brand called Elate Cosmetics, is not that impressive. People have varying degrees of success making their own makeup, since responsible alternatives are typically expensive. Easy products to make are brow powders and lip tints, but beyond that I’ve had little luck.

I typically powder my face with zinc oxide, a natural sunscreen, and leave it like that. Unfortunately, unless you have very fair skin, that might not be a good fit for you because this stuff is pure white and does not blend out (because it’s not actually makeup).

Tips for low waste makeup buying: buy in glass instead of plastic and tubes, use your products until they are gone instead of replacing constantly, choose vegan makeup, and be conscious about where the minerals in your makeup are being sourced. Minerals, like mica, are often mined by children, and it seems unfair to me to support child labor to make our eyelids sparkle.

Makeup wipes and cotton rounds

If you’re wearing makeup, you might need these things. First, I’ll suggest you stop using make-up wipes and use a washcloth. A plastic packet of alcohol soaked, scented wipes isn’t a good idea on the sensitive skin of your face. Try a washcloth.

Cotton rounds have plenty of reusable options. Online you can find all sorts of washable cotton round alternatives for removing makeup that can also help you to support smaller creators, like on Etsy.

Contacts

I have glasses and have never worn contacts, so I’ll be brief. Contacts come in disposable plastic packaging and contact solution comes in plastic bottles. Some contact packaging can be recycled. Try opting out of single use contacts and find contacts that can last as long as possible, and take care of them. Buy the biggest bottle of contact solution you can find in order to limit your packaging. Remember, the most sustainable option is that you already have. Since you probably have glasses lying around the house all of the time, the contacts that are shipped regularly to your house aren’t the most sustainable options. I don’t imagine avid contact users will be changing that anytime soon, though, so do your best to be responsible about the amount of waste they produce.

Floss or water flosser

I’m one of those people who flossed everyday using little plastic flosser sticks. I chose to buy silk floss (which is biodegradable and compostable), but since it’s less convenient I floss about 1-2x a week now. If you don’t floss now, don’t go out and buy a zero waste flossing solution. Remember, zero waste is as expensive as you make it and if you buy products (like a water flosser) that you have no use for before reducing your waste, don’t expect that to be a good use of your money now that you’re reducing your waste.

Lotion bars

These are great, like shampoo bars, for travelling. I have had some and used them on my hands in winter, but I really don’t use lotion much. It’s probably a bit of the minimalism there, but lotion bars are a great option if you want a moisturizer. They can also be found by local soap makers at markets or craft fairs.

Tiny disposable cups

I've never been a user of these, but they're far from necessary. If you need to rinse your mouth, keep a ceramic or other kind of reusable cup on the counter to use instead of Dixie cups. Think it's a little unclean to keep a cup in the bathroom? Well, the same goes for disposable cups kept three feet from your toilet.

Trash can liners

Hopefully, after reading this post you won't have the need for a waste basket in the bathroom. If you choose to use one, don't line it with a plastic bag and just dump it in the household trash can when it's garbage day. If you really want a liner, check out this compostable option!


Not needed


shaving cream

The first time you ever shaved, somebody probably handed you a razor and shaving cream. For you it might feel natural to use it, but I never was a big user of shaving cream to begin with. I use well-lathered soap to shave, even sensitive areas. They make shave soap, which is specifically for shaving and creates a nice foamy lather for shaving and can help you kick the plastic and aerosol cans out of your shaving routine. So if regular soap doesn’t work for you shaving, try a shaving soap.

q-tips

You’re not even supposed to use these, according to most doctors. Cotton swabs do a better job at pushing ear wax down the ear canal than  cleaning, and this is even speculated to cause problems thinking. Reduce your waste here by simply not buying cotton swabs.

If you must, check out this reusable option for die-hard fans.

Aquaphor/Vaseline

These products are derived from crude oil. While they’re a convenient by-product, they come in plastic packaging and aren’t great for the environment. Try shea butter instead. If you use one of these products for diaper rash, try a product with zinc oxide, which can also form a moisture barrier


Good luck! And if you’re looking for more in your zero waste bathroom, check out these nine totally free ideas for a more zero waste bathroom .

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